Alias Empire are the Dublin-based four-piece formerly known as Dry County, who changed their name earlier this year to reflect their sound better than the previous moniker. Specialising in electronic-influenced indie rock sounds, but with more intricate layers and far more adventurous moments than your average -synth rock’ band, they’re busy creating the follow-up to their lauded debut album Unexpected Falls, nominated for the Choice Music Prize in 2007. State spoke to band member Kevin Littlewood as the group prepared for their upcoming gig at Club AC30 in Whelans, Dublin.
Work is already underway on album number two we believe?
Yeah we pretty much started writing and demoing a few weeks after Unexpected Falls was finished. It’s an ongoing process for us, new ideas, new equipment all the time. We’re very much pushed by progression. I think it’s essential to any band to constantly try to do better and progress. Without it things get stale and you end up putting out the same formulaic records over and over.
How are the new tracks differing from your older music?
The new tracks are bigger and more aggressive. I think this comes from playing the first album live. All the tracks became something different from touring. They became beefed up and more in your face than the record. People would say to us ‘I love the record but seeing you live is something different again’. I really liked that we got known for the live element. It’s very important to us to put on great shows. Hence the visuals and the lights etc. The new material is taking that energy and putting it to record.
The band took a short break before returning earlier this year with a new name, Alias Empire – how does this reflect your current sound, and are you all settling into the name nicely?
We sat down and had a chat about the issues we were having with the name and we decided it would make more sense to change it now before we released a second album. There’s another Canadian band with the same name so this would cause us problems with releases and iTunes. Also the name did seem to bring instant associations to country/rock music with people and the dreaded mispronunciation of the name. Dry County became Dry Country, which nearly sent us all mad. The idea behind the new name was to have something that better suited our sound and perhaps didn’t draw immediate ideas of what the band might be. Dry County was right for a time but as with the music things progress.
Were you worried that the name change might affect things for the band?
I think we were all very apprehensive of the change. It’s such a big thing, especially when you’ve put so much time into building a profile and cutting your teeth in the music scene. I think the name change has set us back in some respects, but we had anticipated that. Fans are still coming round all the time and some bookers treated us like a new band. But we’re closing that gap everyday so it’s just down to time and persistence.
Although you’re already onto the second album, the debut is just getting a UK release now.
Yeah, it’s coming out in the next couple of months. The press and radio play is already in motion and we’ve had a good response so far. It was an NME radio single of the week there a while back. We don’t put all our stock in stuff like that but those little nods are always encouraging. It’s a different scene there and being the type of band we are we could never mould ourselves into what we think might be appealing, but I think there’s always room for new sound anywhere you go.
Unexpected Falls got a really good response, going on to be nominated for the Choice Music Prize. Was the reaction what you expected?
We worked for 3 years in total on Unexpected Falls. We were so close it by the end that we couldn’t even hear it anymore. You live with it for so long that it’s impossible to look at it from an outside perspective. We were very strict on making an album as a whole as opposed to 10 songs just thrown together. An album is a complete piece so I think deep down we were really happy with it but we needed to let it go in order to see that when it was released the reviews were really good, people picking up on all the layering and effort that went into it. It’s a real grower of an album and I think they are always my favourite. We’re the kind of band that would never release something we weren’t 100% happy with. So when things like the Choice [Music Prize] came along it was a nice pat on the back and a nod to the work we put in.
Are you hopeful that there will be a similar reaction in the UK?
All we want to be able to do is make music. Enough money to live, eat and make albums. So expanding to the UK and Europe will hopefully be a step closer to that. We just want to get the music heard by as many people as possible. Our expectations for the UK are hopeful and with the feedback so far things are looking promising.
Like any band, your sound has evolved over the past few years – have you been listening to any music, or playing any new instruments, that may have influenced you in that?
We’re all constantly on the look out for new music and new technology when it comes to making music. Derek and Phil are big ‘gear heads’ and they’ll just sit for hours talking about plug-ins and synths. Band meeting usually involve music and film recommendations, discussions on new plug-ins and ways of recording, then a few really bad taste jokes and a beer. What more could you want!
People seem to have a hard time categorising Alias Empire – how would you categorise the band, if you had to?
See in a lot of ways I love that they have a hard time categorising us. I think there would be nothing worse than people being able to say, ‘oh they’re very like this band or they sound like that…’ It can be problematic in the sense of what sells and what is popular but we’ve never let ourselves get caught up in that. We’ve always just made music we wanted to hear. Whenever people ask me what kind of music we make I tell them it’s all the elements we love of melody/ songwriting, and all the elements we like in dance and programming, pushed together to make something not quite either.
The new Alias Empire website was launched recently, and newcomers who sign up can avail of a free download. As a band do you feel that downloads can be beneficial to bands when dealt with in this -legit’ way?
I think that downloads are a massive part of the music industry for better or worse. Bands need to embrace this to a certain extent or they will end up limiting their audience. I still love holding a product in my hand, the artwork, the liner notes etc. I find the external hard drive full of mp3’s a little cold. But everything is changing. And the idea behind the free download was to get people to sign up and join AE online so they can interact with the band and get info as its happening. I guess what bands are trying to do now is create a give and take situation with their fans. Get a free download, buy the album. Get a free song, pay into the next gig. People need value for money, especially in the current climate.
We understand that when it comes to the band name, you might go down the Prince route in the future and be represented by a symbol?
Ha ha, yeah were going to make Stu write ‘slave’ across his face before every show. Well the idea behind it is more that people will eventually just recognise the symbol without needing to see the band name.
What can people expect at the forthcoming Club AC30 gig – what sort of a mix will there be between the new and older tracks?
It will be 50/50. Half old, half new. A nice mix for people who know us and are eager to hear some new material and a good introduction for newcomers to the direction the music is going. The usual in your face beats, 500 synths, full visuals and onstage madness that makes an Alias Empire gig essential for your wellbeing.
Finally, besides recording the new album, is there anything else planned for Alias Empire in 2009?
I think we’re just trying to get our feet in the UK. Release the album there and bring them up to speed before the second album. Keep working on the new material and live shows and try get the music to as many people as possible. Expand the Empire if you will.
Alias Empire play Club AC30 at Whelans in Dublin on Fri 26th June.